Safe staff levels have seen no improvement over the last year, despite government claims of increased numbers of nurses, according to a survey by the trade union UNISON.

The Red Alert - Unsafe Staffing Levels Rising report, which surveyed 5,100 nursing staff from across the UK, painted a concerning picture of overstretched and demoralised staff.

Despite 70 per cent of those surveyed working through their breaks to make up for a lack staff, almost half (45 per cent) reported that there were inadequate numbers of staff to deliver safe and compassionate care.

Forty nine per cent who responded believed staffing levels had worsened since May 2010 and 65 per cent reported that patients missed out on care due to understaffing.

The survey, which UNISON carries out annually, also revealed that when ‘red flag’ events occur due to staff shortages, which should trigger extra staff being made available, action was not always taken.

Head of health at UNISON, Christina McAnea, said: “UNISON has carried out this survey for the past four years and it is deeply concerning that little has changed. Staff are still not able to see all their patients - despite working through their breaks and doing lots of unpaid overtime...

“Nurses and midwives should not have to ration their time and make the difficult choice as to which patients receive care and which ones miss out. It is unfair to put staff in this position and it jeopardises patient safety.”

Tom Jones, head of policy at Thompsons Solicitors, a leading trade union law firm which represents UNISON members and members from other trade unions, including Unite and The Royal College of Midwives, commented: “The demands on our NHS are at an all-time high, yet, the government of the last five years has failed to recognise or deal with this. Nursing staff are bearing the brunt of inadequate resources which is neither fair on them nor the patients they seek tirelessly to serve.”